Tools and Their Uses
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Agent Johnson heard once that in China they use the same word for "crisis" and "opportunity." He thinks about that often. He likes the efficiency of it.

He hums cheerfully along with the radio as he pulls his blank white van up to a barricade outside a college in farm country. A kid in a plastic suit with gear bulging under it taps the window. Johnson smiles reflexively as he rolls it down, sweet pollen and afternoon sun making him squint.

He never wears sunglasses to work. They would make him lazy.

The kid does a double-take when Johnson passes over his credentials, then salutes and waves him through. MTF Epsilon-6 is operating in full swing, roadblocking every exit from the campus and combing every inch of ground for evidence to conceal.

Ep-6 personnel disguised as CDC agents are herding witnesses into staging areas. Plastic tents have popped up like mushrooms on every square of flat ground. The mobile task force look the part of scientists, but too many of them are carrying rifles, and they're not letting anyone leave. The civilians' grief and shock are mixing badly with the apprehension thickening in the air. Johnson doesn't like it. Anything that puts people on their guard is bad for business.

The gloom is heaviest over a crowd surrounding a huge pile of rubble. Kids are holding each other and sobbing as MTF guys with megaphones direct witnesses into tents for medical exams that will turn out to be extensive debriefings. From the center of it all juts a massive crane, which a buzz of suited and masked Ep-6 are using to sift through the wreckage.

The crisis: a wing of this university hall collapsed in the middle of class. Dozens of students and faculty are dead.

The opportunity: Dozens of others are still unaccounted for. Johnson can recruit civilians from out in the open, and their disappearances will be blamed on the alien.

***

The alien - an unstoppable humanoid in a spacesuit - crashed down near the edge of the campus and started approaching students, asking them questions like why they wore giant toads on their backs and how they trained their toads to eat books.

It became a problem when the spaceman marched through the wall of the dining hall and began collecting silverware, which it claimed it would plant in the ground to grow spear trees. Campus security was on the scene and ordered it to halt, but the creature didn't even react, just kept walking. The guard tried to wrestle it down. For his trouble he was brushed aside, breaking his hip.

The alien continued exploring, taking no notice of the panic around it. It entered the building across the street from the dining hall, which turned out to contain a biology lab doing research on canines. It looked around and became convinced that the students were running some kind of counterfeiting operation for dog-based currency.

Moon Champion then announced that it was confiscating the dogs under the authority of the Moon Queen. It proceeded to grab the animals by their collars and take off into the sky with them, ascending straight through two floors and a roof.

***

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Johnson's first hour on campus is a bust. He stopped in at Epsilon-6's command trailer and got some bad news: Greg Weaver, the recruit at the top of his list, is crushed in the wreckage outside. Johnson gives the MTF leader a list of other students to hold for him, then heads back to his van. He doesn't explain what he wants them for and the commander knows better than to ask.

If Greg Weaver is dead, everything's changed. Weaver was a code teal priority.

Every day when he checks in, the office gives Johnson a list of D-Class they need. At the bottom are the code beige: common recruit types like infants and anyone with military training. Depending on the day, traits as innocuous as left-handedness or sailing experience can qualify a person for recruitment. Push comes to shove, any fresh body can be called in as a code beige. The Foundation always needs human body parts. Each cadaver saves at least a dozen lives.

Code pink requests are more urgent, so they almost always call for rarer traits. Today's include someone with heterochromatic eyes that might be able to see things other people can't, a polyglot to develop an inoculation for some kind of language disease, and the sixth son of a sixth son for important research on something Johnson doesn't understand at all. Johnson gets code pink requests several times a week. He's hoping to clear out some backlog today.

A code teal is the rarest and most critical type of personnel request Johnson can get. They never stay in the system very long, because if they do, some crucial project or containment mechanism will fail and the damage will be done. It probably won't be the actual end of the world - those problems are mostly handled over Johnson's head - but something extremely bad will happen if a code teal request goes unfulfilled.

The one that came in today is for a set of AB-negative organs, like Greg Weaver's. If there were any chance of saving the body, Johnson could call an airlift to winch him from the rubble, but the kid's precious guts are beyond use by now. There's another AB-negative candidate on his list, but it's the chief of police. Even in a small town like this the odds of recruiting a head cop right out of the station are slim.

Still, he might have to try.

***

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1233 is helping Johnson more than it could know. The spaceman is so conspicuous that the higher-ups are going to try a new approach: full aerial bombardment with their new line of amnestics. In another two and a half hours, planes are going to fly over and douse the whole area with memory-erasing gas.

Meanwhile, Johnson gets to work in the open. With no witnesses able to remember otherwise, the families of the missing will have to accept forged autopsy reports and lies about emergency cremation.

He's studied all the files, and he thinks 1233 would appreciate helping his cause. They're both dedicated to fighting monsters. In Johnson's view, the moon man isn't crazy at all. He just has a sense of purpose.

Some purposes take a special kind of thought. The Foundation could just order Epsilon-6 to bring their wish list back to base, easy as picking up dry cleaning, but morale wouldn't hold up long that way. Their job is to build an ordinary world. Abducting civilians to keep the trains running on time would be a constant reminder that their boxes are crumbling faster than they can be patched, so they need someone to take that burden for them.

In his own way, Johnson is a champion himself.

Things were looking up for a while. Johnson snagged two code pinks - one a distant relative of Walt Disney, the other a devoutly religious math genius. He convinced them each to get in the van and take sedatives voluntarily with a line about inoculating them from moon germs. Despite the best efforts of Epsilon-6, everyone's heard of the alien that came to town, and they were both too shaken to question him. Moon Champion's visit is a gift that keeps on giving.

Then he came to the home of Doctor Orville Blake, professor of literature and speaker of nine languages, who missed the commotion altogether by staying home with a cold. He informs Johnson that he will not be answering any questions, thank you very much, and starts to slam the door. Squawks indignantly as the agent pushes it inward.

In one smooth motion, Johnson pulls a out a black cartridge with a gray trigger down one side and squeezes it in the man's face.

He shields his eyes with his free hand in case the flimsy plastic applicator splashes amnestic back on him. This new chemical is far better than nothing, but it still takes about a minute to set in. Johnson knees the professor in the balls and puts him in a headlock while they wait. Each second feels like eternity; they're in a suburban living room with the door wide open, broad daylight, top secret wonderdrug glistening on the old man's face.

The stuff really is convenient, though, compared to the Thorazine injections. Getting a clean jab on a struggling recruit was always a real hassle, and getting the dosage wrong would kill them. Johnson hates killing recruits. Civilians are valuable. Life has value. That's why he does what he does in the first place.

Sitting in a triangle hold is a breeze compared to giving those injections, even with the man chomping Johnson's sleeve as he tries desperately to scream. It's too risky to just choke him - not when they need the participant for his brain, living brains are so fragile - but fortunately he's a lightweight and it only takes about forty seconds for him to go slack.

Johnson relaxes as he leads the recruit down the driveway and around the rear of the van. The amnestic - a mix of lysergic acid, scopolamine, and other stuff Johnson's not cleared to know about - causes about six hours of compulsive obedience along with the memory loss. So much easier than dragging them.

There's fear in the man's eyes as Johnson unzips a body bag and tells him to climb inside, but he lies down and holds still as the agent closes it around him. Johnson carefully arranges him head to foot with the others.

He drives away thinking about how the Class-A is an invention that will save lives.

***

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With forty five minutes to go until the bombardment, Johnson finds himself circling the block outside the small town's police station, weighing his options.

Epsilon-6 won't help him; they're not even cleared to know exactly what he's doing. He could radio the office and have them place a fake emergency call to someplace in the neighborhood to at least get more of the cops out of there, spread them thinner than they already are. Then he might be able to talk his way into the chief's office and walk him out on a dose of Class-A. Probably not, though, and he's not willing to get into a shootout. He'd give his life for the cause in an instant, but the odds of success here are just too low, and he can't risk a highway chase or any other stunt that would ruin the whole cover-up.

Yet the code teal needs to be answered.

He decides on a frontal assault; he'll flash his badge and demand to see the chief right out in the front lobby, then shoot everyone in the room. He'll try to just wound his recruit, but as long as the vital organs are more or less intact, the airlift can take the body dead or alive.

He's reaching for the dashboard radio to have the office call in a diversion when he sees her. He can't believe his luck. Julie Cartwright, the code pink with the heterochromatic eyes, is walking down the street alone.

He pulls over, whipping out his badge as he jumps out of the driver's seat, look of relaxed confidence at the ready.

"Miss Cartwright, thank God I found you. We think you may have information that could save lives. If you'll just—"

"An alien attacks and now a G-man wants me to get in his van? I don't think so." She glares at him. "I have to go."

"Hey, listen, it's not like that." He takes a step closer, hands spread in front of him. "I'm sorry if we got off on the wrong foot, but I really need your help." If he can just get a little closer, he can hit her with a Class-A. They're badly exposed here, right between Ground Zero and the police station, but if he gets caught he can stall until the amnestic kicks in and forces her to play along with his cover story. "We're all in really in hot water. There's no time to explain, but you have a chance to make a big difference here."

Her face softens. The trick to a good lie is a good smile, and the trick to a good smile is remembering to work the eyelids. Johnson is a master at it. She lets him get another step closer.

There's a crash like an artillery shell going off. The blast kicks up dirt hard enough to sting their faces and he sees an actual shock wave roll along the ground, spiderweb cracks radiating from its center. The agent and his recruit stand together in awed silence as Moon Champion rises from the crater. His spacesuit is immaculate despite the impact, helmet gleaming in the sun.

"Fitness!" the spaceman announces through a loudspeaker somewhere in his suit. "A sound mind in a sound body! That's how you spot the cream of the academic crop. Moon Force needs the best and brightest to win the campaign against the Moon Monsters."

They're all still for a moment. The grass sways and the birds chirp on, oblivious to the tension. Johnson's thinking about costs and returns. He thinks about the rarity of AB-negative organs and different meanings of the word value. About the number of people in the small town's police station and the number of people that will die if a code teal request goes unfulfilled. His employers have trained him well. He doesn't think for long.

The girl takes off running, and Johnson shoots her in the head.

"Thank God you're here, Moon Champion!" he shouts. "This campus is lousy with Moon Monster spies! They're going to corrupt the youth of the entire nation! This one would've just got me if you hadn't come along to distract her!"

The thing looms over them, the girl flopping on the ground as she dies. "At last! A comrade in the Moon Army! Let us away to-"

"I have important business here," Johnson interrupts. "I'm an officer in the Earth defense force. I have a lot going on around here. They need me to stay in the neighborhood."

The spaceman hasn't moved, and Johnson can't see his face through that damn visor. The file said it has no situational awareness, but follows an internal logic; standing over the girl's body, Johnson hopes he's reading that logic right. "Moon Monster filth," he says, spitting on her.

"We need to fortify these warrior poets to stand against the terrors that await," the entity blares at last. "As breakfast is the most important meal of your terrestrial day, we shall ensure their haleness and overall stoutitude through the consumption of additional Earth breakfasts such as eggs, corned beef, and radishes. I advise starting with nine breakfasts per meal, but we'll make do with less if we must. I understand it's difficult to keep up a sufficient egg supply with such a scant population of crater mites."

"I've looked into it, fellow soldier," Johnson says in his letting-you-in-on-something-big voice. "We're right on top of the last Moon Monster outpost from here to Betelgeuse." A big opportunity light bulb flashes over his head and he adds "once you've made short work of them, I'll be able to hold the line here, and you can go deal with the Betelgeusians."

He doesn't know how long it takes to get to Betelgeuse and back. Johnson's hoping decades. He'll miss these convenient recruiting opportunities, but in his heart he knows it's better to get them one at a time. All this chaos wastes civilians. Saving civilians is what Johnson's all about.

There's a long pause, as if the thing is studying him. "Are you a warrior for the cause of righteousness?" it asks, finally.

Johnson believes only in tools and their uses.

"Of course," he answers without hesitation, crinkling his eyes just right. He points down the street to the station. "That police building is the Moon Monster fortress.

Save us, Moon Champion."

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